Howard County unveils plan to fund body-worn camera program beginning in October

593

Howard County Executive files legislation to release County funding from contingency, will use American Rescue Plan funding to support program immediately pending approval of budget amendment

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced plans to file a budget amendment releasing County funding from contingency in the FY2022 operating budget for Howard County’s body-worn camera program this Thursday. If the budget amendment is approved by the County Council, Ball plans to use $1.6 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) to provide funding for the body-worn camera program beginning on October 5, 2021. With funding in place, the body-worn camera program will be fully implemented ahead of the 2023 Maryland General Assembly mandate pending Council approval of the budget amendment. Video of the event can be found here.

“Through the use of federal funding, we can fund our body-worn camera program immediately following Council approval of our budget amendment,” said Ball. “This essential program can finally move forward – and provide another layer of safety and security for our officers and our community. I am confident that the usage of body-worn cameras will generate a mutually beneficial relationship that will serve our officers and our residents while upholding transparency and justice.”

Police body camera. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Following the filing of the County Executive’s proposed budget, the State-mandated maintenance of effort (MOE) funding level for the school system was significantly higher than anticipated, prompting adjustments to the proposed budget. At the conclusion of the budget process, the Howard County Council voted to place all remaining funding proposed for the body-worn camera program into contingency. The Ball Administration addressed programmatic and staffing questions from the Council throughout the budget process in April and May, and again during a program presentation to the County Council at the end of June.

Combined with the $1 million in preliminary funding for equipment and licensing set aside during the FY2022 budget cycle and the nearly $500,000 in contingency, the additional $1.6 million will go towards fully funding this program immediately following Council approval of Ball’s budget amendment. This total of $3.1 million in funding will go towards:

– Hiring 26 essential positions across the Police Department, State’s Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office,
– 600 cameras for 300 HCPD officers
– Expanded storage capacity and acquiring necessary software
– Procuring additional equipment for deputies within the Sheriff’s department

“Police accountability is a fundamental tenet of our agency and these new body-worn cameras will contribute to that commitment,” said Police Chief Lisa Myers. “We look forward to continuing the outstanding relationships of trust and transparency our police department has long-established with the community.”

“BWC’s serve as a promising tool to help analyze cases and protect the truth of what occurs in our society,” said State’s Attorney Rich Gibson. “I am grateful to County Executive Calvin Ball for being innovative in seeking alternative funding that allows us to properly implement the program sooner for the benefit of our community. We hope the Howard County Council will also move quickly to release the full funding for the program from contingency.”

“I am an advocate for body-worn cameras,” said Sheriff Marcus Harris. “I believe that the implementation of body-worn cameras is good for the citizens of Howard County because it builds trust and provides transparency between law enforcement and the community that we serve.”

While serving on the County Council in 2015, Ball sponsored legislation establishing a committee within the HCPD Citizens Advisory Council to conduct a policing report with best practices for officer and community safety. The report’s top recommendation was to implement a body-worn program, however, at the time, there were challenges with implementation due to cost. The pilot program, which launched in the summer of 2017 and concluded in the Fall of 2018, found three major barriers to instituting the program. In addition to budgetary concerns, a lack of adequate storage space and staffing was identified.

County Executive Ball announced in June of 2020 that the County would revisit the program and develop solutions to overcome the previously cited challenges for implementation. The County proposed program covers 300 Howard County Police Department (HCPD) uniformed officers that have direct and regular contact with the public. HCPD anticipates using the vendor from its one-year pilot program, Axon, and expects to immediately begin acquiring equipment and conducting training for officers when funding becomes available on October 5.

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!